Rapid fire governments in Nepal

Nepali politics is in limbo again with a lame duck prime minister from a minority party


In math, if only two out of three variables can be together, its permutation can have only three values.

The Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist-Centre) and the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) have teamed up three times since 2017, the last time just four months ago. The Maoists and the Nepali Congress (NC) also got hitched three times. 

But this is the first time in seven years that the third combination of a NC-UML coalition is being tired out.

It was Pushpa Kamal Dahal of the Maoists who, despite being the leader of a much smaller party by a long margin, used his swing vote to take turns hitching up with Sher Bahadur Deuba (NC) and K P Oli (UML). Now, Deuba and Oli have jilted Dahal. 

Together, the NC and UML have a majority in Parliament to form a new government, but Prime Minister Dahal is refusing to go, saying he will only do so after facing a confidence vote within a month.

It is foregone conclusion that Oli will be prime minister for the fourth time, and (if he keeps his promise) hand over to Deuba who will head the government for the sixth time till the next elections in 2027.

“The Prime Minister seems to have been taken aback by how suddenly these developments happened,” says political analyst Hari Sharma. “But seeking a confidence vote is a more dignified way for him to go.”

Constitutional amendments need a two-thirds majority in both Houses. While the NC and UML have the numbers in the Lower House through support from smaller parties, it will not be possible to obtain a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly without support from the Maoist Center.

Sharma adds, “These two parties have come together as a matter of convenience, not principle. A constitutional amendment is only a political cover to justify the alliance.”

The NC and the UML say they want to scrap provisions in the 2015 Constitution that gave excluded groups a presence in the legislature through Proportional Representation, saying it led to frequent coalition changes and instability. They have also hinted at doing away with federalism and secularism. 

“One of the most important parts of the Constitution are inclusivity and proportional representation,” says Sharma. “To see it as a problem that needs a constitutional amendment will be regressive. It would have been more credible if the NC-UML alliance had gone for political or governance reform.”

Oli and Deuba tried to give an ideological veneer of the need for constitutional amendment to their secretive midnight pact, but some say it was in essence a joint power grab to offset imminent investigations into scandals that both their top leaders are implicated in: the NC in the fake refugee scam, and the UML in a land grab of a state-owned tea estate in Jhapa. 

For now, the main priority of the NC-UML is power sharing. The NC is wresting the all-important Home Ministry from the RSP’s Rabi Lamichhane which has been investigating the fake refugee and tea estate scams. Lamichhane himself is being investigated for misappropriating funds from co-operatives.

The UML is to get nine ministries, including Finance. Oli had been unhappy with what he called a “Maoist budget” saying there had been no consultation with coalition partners. But the straw that broke the camel’s back was the inability of Dahal and Oli to agree on the lucrative appointment of the head of the Securities Board of Nepal (Sebon). 

The two parties have also decided to divide up provincial governments with three each, except Madhes Province. There is a geopolitical dimension with China openly backing unity among Communist parties, while India and the West want to thwart a UML-Maoist government.

On Wednesday, UML ministers resigned en masse, after the party had urged Prime Minister Dahal to clear the way for a new government. Lamichhane’s RSP has said that it will not be joining the new government, while the monarchist RPP and some smaller parties welcomed the NC-UML alliance.

UML ministers resign NT
UML ministers resigned en masse on Wednesday after the party withdrew its support of the Pushpa Kamal Dahal government. Photo: PRADEEP RAJ ONTA

Some experts say an NC-UML alliance of the two biggest mainstream parties will make the government more stable and fulfil the mandate of Nepali voters. Indeed, despite being the first and second largest parties, the NC and UML have been playing mostly supporting roles in alliances with the much smaller Maoist-Centre. 

Consecutive governments led by Deuba, Oli and Dahal have failed to stimulate the economy, curb inflation, create jobs, or commit to transitional justice. Corruption became endemic during their tenures.

Lately, Deuba and Oli were increasingly spooked by Lamichhane’s corruption probes. Bechan Jha, who was arrested last week for involvement in the fake refugee scandal, reportedly had connections right to the top echelons of the NC. And UML leaders were getting anxious about investigations into the tea estate scam.

Nepal’s cyberphere is bristling with speculation that investigations to both scandals will now be sidelined. Kathmandu’s populist mayor Balen Shah added fuel to the fire with a telling social media post of Deuba and Oli holding teacups. 

Nepal’s mainstream leadership must be concerned about the rise of populist parties and the public outrage on social media about their greed and opportunism. They want to amend the Constitution so that smaller populist parties do not have a strong presence in Parliament through proportional representation.

In the midst of all this, the RSP suspended General Secretary Mukul Dhakal for his scathing internal report critical of Lamichhane putting his political ambition above the interest of the party.

The losers in the fast-paced political developments this week appear to be Dahal and the Maoists, Lamichhane and the RSP and Madhav Nepal of the Unified Socialists. However, in the public’s eye, all three mainstream parties are the same, and citizens do not have faith in the new NC-UML alliance improving their living conditions.

Shristi Karki


Shristi Karki is a correspondent with Nepali Times. She joined Nepali Times as an intern in 2020, becoming a part of the newsroom full-time after graduating from Kathmandu University School of Arts. Karki has reported on politics, current affairs, art and culture.